I'm interested in ancient Judea, from the dissolution of the monarchy to the beginning of John Hyrcanus. It was a small wedge to the west of the Dead Sea. What was the strategic significance of this region? Has the region had a similar significance in other periods, like the Egyptians/ Hittites, Romans, or Crusaders?

Edit: Thanks for the answers. I'm still looking for its strategic value for the Levant, which was a major commercial thoroughfare. It appears to be a stronghold of some sort.

  • As Tom Au already noted, it has a strategic position connecting Africa and middle east, however I want to point out two things: 1) Mediterranean ports in general had strategic locations, as they were necessary for trade, 2) armies and military intelligence was much less mobile in those times, so armies in general had less option to laser target strategic location, tend more to just push and gain control in a whole, larger region. In short, Egyptians or Romans had to occupy all the coastal area, if they wanted to expand in a general direction. – Greg Sep 24 '17 at 5:52
  • @Greg Judea itself doesn't appear to have important commercial ports. The kingdom of Israel and the Hasmonean kingdom did. I don't quite understand what you mean by occupying all the coastal area in order to expand. – John Dee Sep 24 '17 at 12:52
  • Rome was more concerned with the Roman god Terminus than strategic importance. Any territory which had been Roman must eternally remain Roman. Strategic importance is a modern way of thinking; Rome just wanted to expand and never contract. – MCW Sep 24 '17 at 14:19
  • The area was first acquired by Pompey the Great, and at least part of the driving force for this conquest was likely "add to Pompey's triumph". In that particular period, expansion had more to do with personal politics than what "Rome" as an entity wanted. – Gort the Robot Sep 24 '17 at 16:41
  • OK, so to answer concerning the Crusaders... The Crusaders obviously only wanted Judea because of its religious significance. – e3ra Sep 25 '17 at 5:47

Judea has always been a key part of the "land bridge" that connects what we now know as the Arab world, specifically north Africa and the Middle East.

In biblical times, Judea was the gateway by which Egypt attacked Middle Eastern countries, and vice-versa. In 146 BC For instance, Ptolemy VI, aided by Jonathan Macabee, had invaded Syria and captured Selucia. That's why Antiochius VII Sidetes found it necessary to bring Macabee's nephew, John Hyrcanis to heel.

Earlier on, Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria had dissolved the Judea of its last king, Zedekiah, when the latter had allied with Egypt in order to start a rebellion.

Your earlier recollection about mountain fortresses is correct. Judea is located on a plateau, through which north-south trade routes pass through (and can therefore be blocked by) strongly fortified cities. Perhaps the strongest, and certainly the most famous of these cities is Jerusalem. According to Wikipedia:

During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

This gives one an idea of the strategic importance of this city, and others around it.

  • Is it really such a desert to the east of the Dead Sea, that armies have to go through Judea? – John Dee Sep 24 '17 at 13:02
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    @JohnDee: The contrast might not have been as pronounced before the 10th century, but see this satellite map to get a feel of how much greener the pastures are to the west of the Dead Sea. – Denis de Bernardy Sep 25 '17 at 13:02

The area had multiple claims to fame.

From a strategic viewpoint, it connected the Tigris and Euphrates basin to the Nile basin, as already mentioned by Tom.

It was also part of the fertile crescent, a moist and fertile tract of agricultural land compared to its otherwise arid and semi-arid surroundings:

Fertile crescent

The Eastern Mediterranean wasn't as hot and dry back then as it is today. Rather, it was a rich agricultural tract that produced large quantities of food. (It began to decline in this respect around the 10th century.)

Anecdotally but no less importantly, the area additionally was home to Olive trees, Mediterranean cypresses (a scented hard wood commonly used in rituals) and Cedars of Lebanon (a strategic resource for construction and shipbuilding). The Eastern Mediterranean coast hosted abundant forests at the time - particularly in modern-day Lebanon. One of these was home of the gods in Mesopotamian mythology.


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